- John Kiriakou
former CIA analyst and case officer who will soon go to prison for whistleblowing on the CIA’s torture program. He is the author of Reluctant Spy: My Secret Life in the CIA’s War on Terror.
- Jesselyn Radack
attorney for CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou. She is the National Security & Human Rights director at the Government Accountability Project and a former ethics adviser to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Days after he was sentenced to 30 months in prison, John Kiriakou — the first CIA official to be jailed for any reason relating to the torture program — denounces President Obama’s appointment of John Brennan to head the CIA. “I’ve known John Brennan since 1990,” Kiriakou says. “I worked directly for John Brennan twice. I think that he is a terrible choice to lead the CIA. I think that it’s time for the CIA to move beyond the ugliness of the post-September 11th regime, and we need someone who is going to respect the Constitution and to not be bogged down by a legacy of torture.” [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to talk about John Brennan right now, President Obama’s nominee to become the next chief of the CIA. The news agency Reuters is reporting that Brennan had detailed information on the agency’s torture program while serving there under President George W. Bush. Official records apparently show Brennan received regular internal CIA updates about the progress of torture techniques, including waterboarding. It’s unclear if Brennan raised any objections at the time he was made aware. Brennan’s confirmation hearing will be February 7th. In 2006, he gave an interview with Frontline on PBS where he said it was right for the Bush administration to, quote, “take off the gloves” after the 9/11 attacks.
JOHN BRENNAN: The war, or the campaign against terrorism, is going to be a long one, and that the opposition, whether it be al-Qaeda or whether it be Iraq, doesn’t play by the Marquess of Queensbury rules, and therefore, you know, the U.S., in some areas, has to take off the gloves. And I think that’s entirely appropriate. I think we do have to take off the gloves in some areas, but within bounds, and at the right time, in the right way, and for the right reason, and with full understanding of what the consequences of that might be.
AMY GOODMAN: That was John Brennan in 2006. When President Obama was first elected in his first term, he wanted to—John Brennan to be his director of Central Intelligence. There was such an outcry in the human rights community that John Brennan pulled his name out. Now, four years later, President Obama has officially nominated John Brennan once again to head the CIA. Our guest, John Kiriakou, is about to go to jail, was sentenced to 30 months in prison, worked for the CIA, there while John Brennan was there. Can you respond to what John Brennan knew, when he knew it, and the fact that President Obama wants him to be head of the CIA?
JOHN KIRIAKOU: Sure. Obviously I can’t read John Brennan’s mind, but I can tell you that at the time that the torture techniques were being implemented, John Brennan was President Bush’s director of the National Counterterrorist Center. He was also, a little earlier than that, the deputy executive director and then, I believe, executive director of the CIA. That’s the number three ranking position in the CIA. So, he would have had to have been intimately involved in—not necessarily in carrying out the torture techniques, but in the policy, the torture policy—either that or he had to be brain dead, because you can’t be in positions like that, director of the National Counterterrorist Center and executive director of the CIA, without knowing what the CIA’s torture policies are.
Now, I’m surprised, frankly, also, at the fact that there’s no outrage in the human rights community now that Mr. Brennan’s nomination has been made official. There was a great hue and cry in 2009 when he was initially floated for the position of CIA director. And I’m not sure why there’s a difference between four years ago and now. John Brennan certainly hasn’t changed.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: John Kiriakou, I want to read a comment made by the judge at your sentencing hearing. Judge Leonie Brinkema sentenced you to 30 months in prison last Friday, saying, quote, “This case is not a case about a whistleblower. It’s a case about a man who betrayed a very solemn trust, and that is a trust to keep the integrity of his agency intact and specifically to protect the identity of co-workers. … I think 30 months is, frankly, way too light, because the message has to be sent to every covert agent that when you leave the agency you can’t just start all of a sudden revealing the names of the people with whom you worked,” the judge said. John Kiriakou, can you comment on that statement?
JOHN KIRIAKOU: Sure. When Judge Brinkema accepted the plea deal in October, she called 30 months fair and appropriate. I can only think that with a courtroom packed full of journalists last Friday, she decided to seize the moment and make a statement that would be carried in the papers. I don’t know what changed between October and January, other than the fact that she and the prosecution had had several ex parte communications. What that means is the prosecutors were able to meet with the judge, related to my case, without the defense, my attorneys, being present. So we have no idea what it was that the prosecution told the judge. We were not allowed to defend ourselves. Indeed, Judge Brinkema denied 75 motions that we made asking for declassification of information so that I could present a defense. In August of 2012, after our motions had been denied, my attorneys and I walked out of the courtroom, and my attorney said, “We have no defense. She won’t let us say anything. She won’t let us defend you.” And so, we were forced into plea negotiations. But again, I’m not sure why the judge changed her position between October and January; it was inexplicable to me.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain what that’s like in the courtroom, when they invoke national security, that the prosecutor can come forward and speak privately with the judge without your defense attorneys being there.
JOHN KIRIAKOU: Yeah, I had never heard of such a thing before. But in August, when we made our 75 motions, we thought that the judge would block off two days to hear the 75. In fact, there had been a conversation with the prosecution, and so she blocked off an hour to hear the 75 motions. So we knew we were in trouble. And then, at the very start of the hearing, the prosecutor got up and said that he was requesting a Rule 4 conversation. I didn’t know what this was. My attorneys objected and said, “If you don’t want the defendant to hear, at least allow us to hear so that we can represent his interests.” And the judge said, “No, this is a national security case. I’m allowed an ex parte communication with the prosecutors.” So the prosecutors went up to the bench. We could hear them whispering. They came back to their table, and the judge said, “All 75 motions are denied.” And that was the end of it. We got up, and we walked out of court. And my attorneys said, “We have to negotiate a plea.”
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Jesselyn—
JOHN KIRIAKOU: It was extremely disheartening.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Jesselyn Radack, I wanted to ask about the legal implications of this case and how it fits into the treatment of government whistleblowers under the Obama administration.
JESSELYN RADACK: Absolutely. To get to the point you just raised with John, I think the reason Judge Brinkema changed her opinion between October and last week is because the government submitted a secret statement that John was not allowed to see that played a large role in the sentencing hearing, but neither the public nor the defendant were allowed to see the statement, which is very Kafkaesque.
But in the grander scheme, the prosecution of John Kiriakou and the war on whistleblowers, using the heavy handed Espionage Act, by charging people who dare to tell the truth as being enemies of the state, sends a very chilling message. And Judge Brinkema herself acknowledged that a strong message had to be sent, that secrets must be kept. But apparently, that only applies to people who are trying to reveal government abuses and illegality, because all of the people in the White House and the CIA who revealed classified information and—of undercover identities to the makers of a Hollywood film, Zero Dark Thirty, have done so with impunity and with lavish praise. So—
AMY GOODMAN: Wait, can you say—can you say specifically what you’re talking about, Jesselyn Radack?
JESSELYN RADACK: Yes. Specifically, the White House and the CIA were very involved in the making of Zero Dark Thirty, which pretends to be some kind of neutral film that implies torture led to the capture of Osama bin Laden, which it absolutely did not. In that process, a high-level Defense Department official, Michael Vickers, revealed the identity of an undercover Special Operations Command officer, but was not held to account for that. And the CIA revealed numerous classified pieces of information, including sources and methods. So when—yeah?
AMY GOODMAN: Keep going.
JESSELYN RADACK: So when the United States talks about the sanctity of keeping secrets, and both the judge and multiple statements by United States officials discussed that, they are the biggest leakers of all. And they do so with impunity.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to talk about another whistleblower targeted by the Obama administration who has been former National Security Agency analyst. He’s Thomas Drake. He worked for the NSA for nearly seven years before blowing the whistle. Thomas Drake appeared on Democracy Now! last March.
THOMAS DRAKE: The critical thing that I discovered was not just the massive fraud, waste and abuse, but also the fact that NSA had chosen to ignore a 23-year legal regime, which had been established in 1978, called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, with a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, and which, at NSA, during the time that I was not only at NSA but also in the military flying on RC-135s overseas during the latter part of the Cold War, it was a contract, the one thing you did not do. It was the prime directive of NSA. It was the—the—First Amendment at NSA, which is, you do not spy on Americans—
AMY GOODMAN: And what did you find?
THOMAS DRAKE: —without a warrant. I found, much to my horror, that they had tossed out that legal regime, that it was the excuse of 9/11, which I was told was: Exigent conditions now prevailed, we essentially can do anything. We opened up Pandora’s box. We’re going to turn the United States of America into the equivalent of a foreign nation for the purpose of a—of dragnet, blanket electronic surveillance.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s former National Security Agency analyst Thomas Drake. Jesselyn Radack, he is one of your clients. What happened to him?
JESSELYN RADACK: Yes, I represented both Tom Drake and John Kiriakou. The government dropped all 10 felony counts against Tom Drake, and he pled guilty to a minor misdemeanor, the equivalent of a parking ticket. I find it appalling that the two men who revealed the biggest scandals of the Bush administration—namely warrantless wiretapping and torture—are the only two who have been criminally prosecuted for it, and not the people who secretly surveilled the communications of Americans, and not the people who were involved in the torture program, all of whom have been conferred immunity by either the president or by acts of Congress.
AMY GOODMAN: John Kiriakou, you’re now—we are now—the president is President Obama. Did you see a change between President Obama and his predecessor, President Bush? And also, when you were talking about John Brennan, do you think he should head the CIA? What message do think that sends? And what has changed in the last four years, when he withdrew his name for consideration?
JOHN KIRIAKOU: In 2010, when my book came out, I was giving a speech in Los Angeles, and a woman asked me a question about the difference between President Obama and President Bush. And I’ll never forget the question, because it was just so crazy. She said, “Can you explain the CIA’s position on the jihadization of American foreign policy under President Obama?” And I laughed, and I said, “Ma’am, with all due respect, President Obama’s foreign policy is an extension of President Bush’s foreign policy. If there’s any difference at all, President Obama is killing more people overseas than President Bush ever did.” So, no, I don’t think there’s any difference at all between the Bush foreign policy and the Obama foreign policy, which I think really is a shame for us, because there was a wonderful opportunity to take a different path and to reclaim our position as a moral leader in the world. So I’m disappointed in that.
With regard to John Brennan, I’ve known John Brennan since 1990. I worked directly for John Brennan twice. I think that he is a terrible choice to lead the CIA. I think that it’s time for the CIA to move beyond the ugliness of the post-September 11th regime, and we need someone who is going to respect the Constitution and to not be bogged down by a legacy of torture. I think that President Obama’s appointment of John Brennan sends the wrong message to all Americans.
AMY GOODMAN: You worked with him, directly for him. Did Brennan receive regular internal CIA updates about the progress of torture techniques, including waterboarding, as Reuters is reporting?
JOHN KIRIAKOU: I worked for him when he was a—an analytic manager. It was before he really hit the big time under George Tenet. But again, I think that it’s impossible for him to not have gotten these briefings, for him to not have been intimately involved in the policy, by virtue of his senior positions, some of the senior-most positions in the CIA. It’s just impossible that he didn’t know what was going on.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: John Kiriakou, you’ll shortly be going to prison. Do you know exactly when your prison sentence will begin? And how are you preparing for this? You’re the father of five children.
JOHN KIRIAKOU: I’m the father of five. I don’t know exactly when this will be. It will be sometime in the next four to six weeks. I’ll have to report to a prison somewhere. I don’t know where. It’s, frankly, very hard to prepare. You have to do things like arrange a power of attorney, arrange child care. I mean, there are so many things to do, it’s just overwhelming. My wife, thank God, is very strong and very tough and very supportive. And we are treating this like temporary duty overseas. It was not unusual for me to go overseas for many months at a time, sometimes as long as two years at a time, two-and-a-half years. So we’re treating this like an overseas deployment. I can call my children virtually every day. If I’m close enough, they can come and visit me. And I’m just hoping for the best.
AMY GOODMAN: How old are your kids, John?
JOHN KIRIAKOU: I have two sons from a first marriage who are 19 and 16, and then my wife and I have three children: an eight-year-old boy, a six-year-old girl and one-year-old boy.
AMY GOODMAN: And what do they understand?
JOHN KIRIAKOU: Well, they know that I’ve been involved in a fight with the FBI for the last year. And I told them, “You know I’ve been fighting the FBI. And unfortunately, I lost. And so, because I lost, my punishment is I’m going to have to go away for a couple of years, and I’m going to try to teach bad guys how to get their high school diplomas. And when I’m all done with that, I’ll come home, and we’ll live as a family, and everything’s going to be OK again.”
NERMEEN SHAIKH: John Kiriakou, quickly, before we conclude, what advice would you give to whistleblowers now, given what’s happened in your case?
JOHN KIRIAKOU: I made mistakes in my case. I would say, first, go through the chain of command, which I didn’t do, I should have done. I would say, if you get no satisfaction through your chain of command, go to the congressional oversight committees. But do not remain silent. If you see waste, fraud, abuse or illegality, shout it from the rooftops, whether it’s internally or to Congress.
AMY GOODMAN: John, we’re going to have to leave it there. Thank you so much for being with us. John Kiriakou spent 14 years at the CIA as an analyst and case officer. He’s going to jail for two-and-a-half years.